Thousands of lives saved as Herat cleared of landmines

Herat was among the provinces heavily infested by tens of thousands of landmines and unexploded ordnances. (Courtesy photo)
Updated 18 February 2018
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Thousands of lives saved as Herat cleared of landmines

KABUL: Clearance of landmines from Herat after 40 years is nearing completion and was hailed by Afghan provincial authorities on Saturday as a remarkable life-saving work and “great news” for the people of the city.
Halo Trust, which has a long history of demining in Afghanistan, announced on Feb. 15 that 14 out of the 16 districts in Herat are safe following the completion of 10-year-long clearance operations by the UK-funded organization.
“This is certainly great news for the people of Herat,” said a spokesman for the governor of Herat.
Talking to Arab News, he said: “The public’s concern has been addressed. We had a ceremony marking the announcement that there is no danger to the lives of people from landmines and unexploded ordinance in those areas.”
The official added: “Thousands of kilograms of (explosive) materials were removed and destroyed. If one kilogram could kill at least one person then the number of lives saved amounts to thousands.”
Abdul Latif Rahimi, a senior operational officer for the Halo Trust, said: “The remaining two remote districts of Gulran and Shindand have not been cleared yet because of poor security and presence of militants in the area.”
Before Halo Trust began its operations in 2008, Herat was among the provinces heavily infested by tens of thousands of landmines and unexploded ordnance including missiles and aircraft bombs — the legacy of 40 years of war — Rahimi said.
“We have cleared some 96 million square meters of area in Herat of 645,117 mines, bombs, rockets and bullets in the past 10 years,” he told Arab News.
Fortunately, given the huge area cleared, the Halo Trust lost none of its employees while unearthing the explosives, he said.
But it lost six of its staff in an abduction incident in the province.
Authorities in Herat said one of the cleared sites is being used to house tens of thousands of Afghan refugees.


Arrests follow rape of Indian anti-trafficking activists

Updated 26 min 51 sec ago
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Arrests follow rape of Indian anti-trafficking activists

  • At least 60 NGOS in four networks are working on a memorandum asking the state to protect activists
  • More recently it brought in the death penalty for those who rape children under the age of 12 following a national outcry over the gang rape

NEW DELHI: Police have made a series of arrests in connection with the abduction and rape at gunpoint of five anti-trafficking campaigners in the central Indian state of Jharkhand early this week.

Khunti police station officials, where the incident happened, told Arab News that three people have been arrested, including the head of the school where the play was being performed. 

Police superintendent Ashwini Kumar Sinha said a leader of a local movement called Pathalgadi instigated the accused, saying that the play performers were against the movement and should be taught a lesson. 

Pathalgadi is a political movement whose followers recognize their village councils as the only sovereign authority and views all outsiders suspiciously.

Activists working in the area say the incident has left them shocked and worried for their safety.

Earlier this week, nine activists were abducted while performing a street play in Kochang village and driven into a forest, where they were beaten and the women raped.

The activists were from the nonprofit organization Asha Kiran, which runs a shelter in the Khunti district for young women rescued from trafficking. Activists say that while such incidents are rare, the abductions have shaken the community.

“There is definitely fear now,” said Rajan Kumar, of Sinduartola Gramodaya Vikas Vidyalaya, a nonprofit group campaigning against people trafficking in the district. 

“But people have to work. We need to do more to take members of the village council into our confidence.”

Rajiv Ranjan Sinha, of the Jharkhand Anti-Trafficking Network, a coalition of 14 organizations, said the incident has frightened everyone.

“We’ve never had to face this before,” Sinha said. “But it will definitely have an implication. New people will be scared to go into the field.”

On Saturday, several non-profit organizations called for a silent protest march at 10 a.m. in the state capital Ranchi on Sunday.

At least 60 NGOS in four networks are working on a memorandum asking the state to protect activists and to take seriously the issue of violence against women.

“We are not only NGO workers, but we are female also,” a spokeswoman said. “There is a lot of fear among workers now.”

India has a poor record of sexual violence against women — at least 39,000 cases were reported in 2016, the latest government data available. Activists say many more incidents go unreported.

The country changed its rape laws and introduced Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences legislation after the rape and murder of a 19-year-old student in December 2012 in the Indian capital.

More recently it brought in the death penalty for those who rape children under the age of 12 following a national outcry over the gang rape and murder of an 8-year-old girl in the northern state of Kashmir.

The girl was kidnapped, drugged and raped in a temple where she was held captive for several days before being beaten to death.